Girl Talk's Gregg Gillis is Thinking About Making Music for Fewer People and Getting a "Real Job"


  • Paul Sobota

Ed. Girl Talk will headline the first day of LouFest 2012, on August 25 in Forest Park. We spoke with the mastermind behind one of the more insane dance parties going for this week's music feature. But Gregg Gillis has a lot to say and we couldn't fit all the gems into print. Below, you can find his thoughts on careerism and money and how it all fits together live.

Do you still carry a passion for engineering?

It was never really a hard-core passion for me. I think my music, my art is on an entirely different level compared to engineering. But I do think with this project, I've always made a point at every stage to not be too career motivated - even now. And when I make decisions about purchase points or the cuts on albums, I really just think, "What is the most interesting thing to do with the project?" as opposed to "What would make the most money?" or "What would last the longest?"

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That being said, I would love for this project to continue to grow and evolve and change. You know, where it's at now versus where it was ten years ago is very different, and I would hope that ten years from now it would still exist as something entirely else.

I could see going back to engineering where I could slow down eventually, or maybe I could still be making music that a lot fewer people would be interested in or following. At some point, I could see getting back to engineering in a way that could be, "Oh, yeah, I'm still doing music, but now I think I should go back and get a real job for the rest of my life."

Your current stuff is so rooted in pop culture and pop music. Like, will you use orchestras or sambas next?

[Laughs] I think it grows. At this point, there are so many different places to go with sample-based music. People do so many different things with samples, whether it's Daft Punk or Beastie Boys or Animal Collective. They're all people who work with pre-existing sound to make something new.

For the past five years, I've almost exclusively worked on material for the live show, and then that material will turn into an album. But over the past few months, I've been working on a lot of material that's not intended for the live show. It's more removed from the source material and uses more obscure samples. So I have a vision of where things can go, and I think it's in a slightly less popular direction but still sample-based and not a complete departure from the fundamental idea of the project.

So many of my friends currently like playing "Name That Tune" with your music, seeing how fast they can guess things. Yeah, it's funny, because I never really thought about it like that. Then people started saying it, and it makes perfect sense. But when I'm assembling it, I go through each song so thoroughly that I can't even take a step back and think about what it would be like to hear it for the first time and hear all of these elements. I hear it in a way that every idea is so thought through and so processed, I'm on a different level. But it makes perfect sense! I've read that you never want your live audience to hear the same thing twice in a given show and that you change things up from your albums. Why is that important to you?

In that setting, everything is very "live." I trigger every sample by hand. I think when you see an electronic music show, sometimes it's hard to process that or feel that, as opposed to seeing a band two nights in a row with the same songs being a distinctly different experience each time. For me, it's always been important to have that new material to keep it fresh. A lot of times, people will tell me, "This will be my sixth Girl Talk show this year" and they'll travel to shows. I work everyday, so I'm excited to share the new stuff - always excited to experiment and see what's going to go over well. Even when I'm putting together a record, I'll find something that works, but maybe the a cappella that's going to go on the new record fits really well with the melody from the previous record, but I've already used that melody so it can't go on the new record, but I can play that live. I'll play a lot of things live that are combinations that could have been on any album. And there are certain live tools that translate really well for the show but might not be my favorite thing for a record. Likewise, there are things that are things on the records that are mellow or a bit too complex that might not work in the show.

There's really no end to any of the material; there's only a remix of the remix, reinterpreting that old material. Changing it up live is nice for the dancers and also exciting for me. If I weren't playing as many shows, I think my work process would slow down. I'm basically forced into changing up things.

You tour so much.

Yeah, I make a point to get home as much as I can. For a lot of the year, I'll have weekends free, so I'll be home for three days and out for four. So I reset, I'm healthy, I feel good, and I can go back out there. It has kind of been nonstop for four or five years, but it's extremely difficult for me to do 30 days in a row. I haven't done that in about a year and a half. Spacing it with little breaks allows me to be mentally and physically healthy.

Do you actually like the songs that you use, or do they just go with something else in your head? Are you really an Ace of Base fan?

[Laughs] Yeah, I'm a fan of everything I sample, man. I'm kind of obsessed with radio pop and oldies stations. There's just so much out there. Twelve years of sampling songs, and there's still stuff that could go together. I still think everyday, "Oh, I've never sampled that. That works really well." Sped up or cut up, or the baseline or some element of it could work really well. I can manipulate it into a way that I love it.

Here in St. Louis, you've performed at many venues. How are those smaller shows different from what you're going to bring to the huge LouFest stage?

We have elements in terms of props and productions to do as much as we can every single night. I'm not sure exactly what we'll be bringing to LouFest yet, but it's always the best it can be. There are a number of things that we can do for the outdoor show that we can't do in an indoor show. But I think a lot of the ideas in terms of the on-stage video and the props sort of came from thinking about festivals. What would appeal to a large outdoor audience? These shows, for me, are some of the most fun.


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